Monday, July 31, 2017

Before I Die

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Whiskey Bay in Australia. It was breathtaking in its beauty. One of those places and moments that you are confident in the incredible majesty of the Creator. It reminded me of a time a believing friend of mine named a few other beautiful locations on this earth. I agreed that the places he mentioned were very beautiful as well. Then he said something I found odd. They said, "I hope I get to visit those places before I die." Here's my question: Why did he say, "Before I die"? What is it about death that makes them think they will be prevented from going to those places thousands of times for thousands of years if they so desire?

Is it that we believe? That once we get to heaven, we become incarcerated there and that we can never leave to see the beauty of the new earth? Maybe they think once we get there we would never want to leave. That its beauty would be so overwhelming, we would want to stay there forever? Then why is God making a new earth if we will never see it? Will it not reflect His glory as well? What's the purpose of Jerusalem coming down out of heaven and landing on earth (or do we think it will hover just overhead?) and God choosing to dwell among men...here...on this planet. Do we believe that God has chosen to live only in heaven and that since we want to be where He is we must refrain from any traveling to other cities on earth? But isn't He everywhere at all times? Would that cease to be after He creates the new heaven and new earth? I would love to hear what you think. Read Revelation 21:1-4, and offer some feedback.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Like a Child

At the end of particular Sunday services we offer what's called a "Response" so that worshippers can "come forward" (I hesitate to use that particular phrase but can't think of another one) and bow in prayer at the steps of our stage area to offer petitions to a Holy God. Sometimes they come to me and ask if I will pray with them which is without exception a huge honor. I feel such pastoral privilege to be able to accompany someone I love as they approach the throne room of the Almighty. But there are few things more precious to me than when a child comes forward and asks for prayer.

Some adults in the room seem to fidget a bit when the little ones begin to move from their place toward the front. I doubt it's because they disapprove...I think it probably is because they may think it puts me in the awkward position of praying for childish...therefore trivial things...those things that might best be prayed for quietly from the seats or written on the prayer cards. It's just a theory, but a few have even asked me how I feel about the pre-teen prayer-time and I have to smile. Jesus was in a similar position when it comes to children approaching Him, and most of us know how He felt about it (Mark 10:14). How else could I feel? I love it. Prayers so genuine...so innocent...so simple...so heart-warming...so beautiful. So, without revealing too much, I'd like to share a few of the prayer requests I have the blessing of hearing every now and then...

Can you pray for my dad? He said his back is killing him and I don't want him to die...
Can you pray for our church? I heard we need more money...
Pray for me when I ride the bus. ______ is mean to me and I want God to help me not punch her...
Will you pray for my dog? Dad said she's gonna have lots of puppies next week and I don't want it to hurt too much...
I want to pray for my friend at school? He said he didn't know God and I want them to meet...

And then we bow...and pray.

Spreading the Gospel in The Midst of Pain

Everywhere we turn, there is pain in our world. Most recently a shooting at a baseball practice has underscored the deep divide that exists in our nation and has brought to the forefront the agonizing reality that many are filled with so much hate and animosity toward those that do not view the world as they do, that they are willing resort to drastic means to make their point. Even if making that point means the end of their lives on this earth Now, we can certainly make our own political stand and shout with clinched fist "What is wrong with this world?" but the truth is simple. It is a world that needs to know the hope found only in the Person of Jesus Christ.

That is all well and good, but to be honest, their are many who are experiencing their own painful issues. Health issues, financial issues, relationship issues that deter us from the call of Christ to tell the world about salvation through Him. Paul reminds us that even when we are experiencing great challenges in life we can still tell people about Jesus. He says to the Philippians that his imprisonment actually "served to advance the gospel" (Phil 1:12). So, in fact, our pain can even increase our effectiveness for proclaiming the good news. Adversity can become a bullhorn for our love for Jesus and change the hearts and minds of those who need to know that there is hope in a fallen and darkened world.

Let us pray for each other that while we may view our painful circumstances as a roadblock, it just may be that it is the pavement by which the gospel can travel to those who need it most.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Was Jesus born on December 25th? Not Likely.

The short answer to this question is, we simply don’t know the exact date, or even the year of our Savior’s birth, but a December 25th, 0 A.D. birth does not seem likely. Meticulous examination has led many scholars to believe it was somewhere between 6 B.C. and 4 B.C. Whenever Jesus' birth occurred, we can be certain of this: if God had wanted us to know the exact date and year, He certainly could have told us in His Word. Lee Strobel reminds us that in several other aspects of this event, He gives very specific details about that night, even down to what the Christ-Child was wearing – "swaddling cloths"—and where he slept— "in a manger ” (Luke 2:12). These are things we need to understand because they speak to the nature and character of Jesus and how He will live His life. He was meek and lowly. But the precise date of His birth, like the star in the east, has no relevance. Perhaps this is the reason God chose to exclude such information from the Gospels. With that said, I would like to share what may be ascertained by what is found in the Scriptures. 
Here is why a December date for His birth may be unlikely.

1. The shepherds were in the fields that night - We know for certain that on the night Jesus was born, shepherds were in the fields watching their flocks (Luke 2:7-8). This would not have been a likely scenario during the frigid night temperatures in December. Since December is not only cold but also an especially rainy month in Judea, it is quite likely that the shepherds would have sought shelter for their flocks at night rather than being in the fields where they might be exposed to the extremely harsh elements.

2. A census was being taken at that time - Mary and Joseph had traveled to Bethlehem to register in the Roman census decreed by Augustus (Luke 2:1-4) and once again weather would have been a consideration for the timing of such an edict. This type of census was not taken in the cold winter months, when temperatures often dropped below freezing creating hazardous travel conditions and thereby defeating the purpose for a census in the first place.

3. John the Baptist was likely born in February-March - Since Elizabeth (John’s mother) was in her sixth month of pregnancy when Jesus was conceived (Luke 1:24-36), we can determine the approximate time of year Jesus was born if we know when John was born. John’s father, Zacharias, was a priest serving in the Jerusalem temple during the course of Abijah (Luke 1:5). Historical calculations indicate this course of service corresponded to June 13-19 in that year (The Companion Bible , 1974, Appendix 179, p. 200). It was during the time of temple service that Zacharias learned that he and his wife, Elizabeth, would have a child (Luke 1:8-13). After he completed his service and traveled home, Elizabeth conceived (Luke 1:23-24). John's conception at that time, brings us to a birth at the beginning to the middle of March as the most likely timing. Adding another six months (the difference in ages between John and Jesus (Luke 1:35-36)) brings us to August-September as the likely time of Jesus’ birth.

That being said (written), this Christmas, may our focus be on the truth that He was born, He died for our sins and He is alive today. In this fact our hearts rejoice! "Sing and rejoice O daughter of Zion, for behold I come and I will dwell in your midst..." - Zechariah 2:10

Friday, November 20, 2015

Overcoming Distractions that Lead Us in the Wrong Direction

The following post was written by Jon Gordon

As I walked on the beach the other day I noticed that certain areas were closed off by fences and signs that said "Sea Turtle Eggs."

I remembered reading that female sea turtles swim to shore between May and August to dig nests in the sand and lay their eggs. Months later, the eggs hatch and the baby turtles follow the pure light of the moon back to the surf. In a perfect world, the pure light of the moon guides every turtle back safely to the ocean.

However, as we know, we don’t live in a perfect world. Sea Turtle hatchlings instinctively crawl toward the brightest light. On an undeveloped beach, the brightest light is the moon. On a developed beach, the brightest light can be an artificial light source emanating from restaurants, homes and condominiums along the coast.

Unfortunately, these powerful artificial sources of light often attract the hatchlings and cause them to move in the wrong direction when they are born. Rather than follow the pure light of the moon to the ocean the sea turtles follow the wrong light to a disastrous outcome.

It occurred to me that we humans face a similar challenge. Rather than follow the path we were meant to follow, unfortunately we too often are distracted by things that move us in the wrong direction. Technology, online games, too much time on Facebook, bad habits, addictions, stress, busyness and meaningless distractions lead us astray. Instead of following the pure light of perfection we allow bright and shiny artificial things to sabotage our journey. So, what about you? Are you following your priorities and pure light to the right destination or are you allowing artificial distractions to lead you in the wrong direction? Are you following the path you were meant to follow or are you letting meaningless things keep you from being your best?

The great news is that unlike sea turtles we have the ability to think, adapt and change direction when we realize we are following the wrong path. We can tune out the distractions and focus on our priorities and let the pure light lead us to an ocean of possibilities and a great future!

-Jon

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

What Would Be the Point of Making Starbucks Baristas Say "Merry Christmas"!

I saw my first Chrstmas commercial of the season last night and every year at about the same time of that inaugural holiday ad, it seems some company offends Christians by attempting to take "Christ" out of "Christmas". This year is no exception. It is an odd thing that some Christians expect large companies they enjoy doing business with, to share a mutual adoration of Jesus. The latest version of this is Starbuck's new mug design (remember people, it's a coffee cup not a chalice...nothing holy to see here). I like Starbucks. No. I love Starbucks. Especially this time of year when they take my order and my name and I eagerly await to hear the barista shout "Pumpkin Spice Latte for 'Larry'" (it's so much fun to have a Starbucks alias, right?).

This brings me to the point of this post. "Going viral" seems to be the goal of the social world and recently a video about the Starbuck's (rather un-holiday-looking) cup did just that. As a result, it has caused some controversy and even outrage among a number of Christians (and I think that number is very small) whom believe that Starbucks, a company that has made it clear it does not champion what Christians believe, is trying to remove Him from Christmas. It is trending now that we as Christians, while continuing to buy Starbucks beverages, are railing against the design faux pas,and are also encouraging all believers to give their "Starbucks" name as "Merry Christmas"  when they order their drink rather than their real name. Everyone knows that when you order you tell them your name so that they shout it across the cafe when your order is ready. Their hope is that this will then force (yes, I said "force") all baristas to acknowledge Jesus during the holidays. This is, I believe wrong on so many levels and I would like to point out 6 that I think are relevant as we prepare to purchase our White Chocolate and Peppermint Mochas:

1. Some Starbucks baristas are believers and do not need to be coerced into saying "Merry Christmas". - I know a few of the Starbucks baristas in my city and each of them are beautiful people inside and out. In their case, it is simply the supernatural overflow of their love for Jesus, and they celebrate the birth of Christ with a passion each year. What good would come of a Christian customer ordering a drink and without knowing what the barista believed, gave the name "Merry Christmas" to force them into saying those two words? I see no God-glorifying, kingdom-advancing value in this. Let's just not.

2. The baristas are not required to say a "name" at the time of the order anyway. -  I know from personal experience, that I have ordered a drink and only gotten the name of my order when it was ready. However, I spoke with one of those friends I mentioned above, who used to be a barista at Starbucks and asked if she was "required" to say a name, She said that while it was the "rule" to do so," some baristas" did not do it. But even if Starbucks required it, the laws of our land are unlikely to support such a directive. Let's let that play out for a moment. Suppose someone comes in to a Starbucks, and gives their name as "Merry Christmas" and the barista on deeply personal held beliefs, refuses to utter that phrase. Can we think of any "freedom of speech" or "remaining silent" rights that would trump this supervisor mandate? Do we really believe that Starbucks would for some reason place their employees in this awkward position and then demand that they say "Merry Christmas"? If as a result of remaining quiet, a barista did in fact lose his or her job, how much time would pass before that ex-barista secured the services of a well-known attorney who would love to go after Starbucks in this matter? Foremost to Christians, in the end, how would Christ be honored in this?

3. The baristas are neither the policy setters nor the cup-designers - It is my understanding that Starbucks executives claim that their reason for the under-stated tone of the mug was a desire for a more "somber" experience this Christmas, and therefore removed any sort of holiday design from this year's edition. Whether simplicity or the absence of Christ was Starbucks' motive, surely we do not believe that each store and its employees all agreed with the policy before the cup was shipped. Many times restaurant customers have expressed their dissatisfaction with a waitress who had nothing to do with cooking the order. A word to the wise: never complain to someone who handles your food behind closed doors. It is the same with the Starbucks baristas. Certainly it is likely that there are exceptions here, but we all assume that Starbucks is a large enough company that they have designers who create the look of the holiday coffee cup somewhere else and then ship those cups to their thousands of locations without the benefit of input from the baristas. We know intuitively that the one who is taking our order had nothing to do with what the cup looks like. If it is truly our desire to affect change, why would we express our opinion at the local level instead of going to corporate?

4. Christmas trees and snow flakes are not Christian symbols. - There seems to be some misunderstanding here. Perhaps there is a "Christian Christmas" cup design with which I am not familiar? If not, then while the graphics on the side of the cup were very festive, snowmen, candy canes, and the like are not traditionally a Christian design. I have never seen a cross or a nativity scene on a Starbucks cup...ever. There was a star that guided the magi to the Christ-child (side note: this happened two years after that night in the stable in Bethlehem and is NOT a part of the nativity). That is about as close as "STAR" bucks has come to depicting the birth of the Messiah.

5. Forcing a company and its employees to acknowledge Christ at Christmas time does not bring the world closer to Jesus.- Now we are getting to it, here. I passionately desire that all come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, but I have no example of Jesus ever teaching us to boycott Godless companies when they refuse to see things our way. If my goal is to tell the world about the Savior's love and lead them to the salvation that only comes through Him, I must reject this as a vehice for doing so.

6. It makes Christians look petty. - Several years ago when Disney was "allowing homosexuals certain rights and protections as employees" and a large influential group of Christians decided to tell like-minded people to boycott Disney Theme Parks as a result of this decision. It accomplished very little. People did not boycott Disney World/Land en mass.  It did give Disney lots of free publicity as is the case for Starbucks, here and surely did just the opposite of what was intended.  The point is Disney is not the church and neither is Starbucks. They can do whatever they want with their policies and mugs. There are so many more pressing issues for the church to be grieved about like world hunger, the sex slave trade, homelessness etc. When we tackle coffee cups, we look silly and foolish to a watching world and it clouds their view of Christ's love for them. We are believers. As such we are not a part of this world. However, we are placed in this world to make a kingdom difference and lead others to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Remember...wise as serpents and harmless as doves. The way to do this is quite simply not through boycotts and coersive Starbucks names. It will come only through the power of the Holy Spirit working in their lives. It will come through our prayers for them. It will come when we show an agape love that is so stubborn, it will love them even when they are serving...or sipping a Peppermint Mocha from a very plain-looking coffee cup.


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

What's So Great About Costco?

I love this time of year. The leaves are changing colors and the temperature is dropping. Of course it means that it's time to get ready for the holidays and that can be stressful which tends to temper the excitement a bit. In fact I'd probably be bummed if it weren't for the fact that all of the hustle and bustle has made for some very good family time. You know what makes ordinary moments special occasions? It's the people with whom you share them. I am quite often amazed by how the mundane becomes the memorable just by hanging out with my family. In fact, some of our best times are spent doing routine things. Things like going to one of those Members' Clubs. You know the place. Those big warehouses are so cool! Where else can you burn 5 bucks of gas driving across town to save 3 cents a gallon?

I've got to say though, the distribution center cleans up nicely during this time of year with all of the seasonal gadgets and gizmos spackled all over the storeroom like too much tinsel on a Christmas tree. Not to mention the sweet retirees peddling their dentist-cup portions of holiday finger fare. If you're thinking straight, you show up at lunch time and appetize like a boss on the festive little goodies and then head to the front where the deli boasts some pretty substantive cuisine of its own. The lady in the hair net will serve up a slice of pizza large enough to feed a family of 10 and a 64 oz Styrofoam logo cup that comes with free refills (like you're going to need a refill). The best part is the damage is about a buck fifty, which comes to somewhere in the neighborhood of 0.000008 cents per calorie!! Seriously, I did the math. Top that off with a free sample snicker doodle from the bakery and you're golden.

In the book section, you can browse the best-sellers or thumb through a gigantic picture book about WWII aircraft or every Doctor Who there has ever been (everybody knows Capaldi is the best). The pharmacy will fill your prescription. Your new extended-wear contacts are ready for pick-up in the optometry department, and before you snag the 55-gallon drum of laundry detergent, make sure you upgrade to the new iPhone 8+. Let little eyes catch the latest PAW Patrol on the 60 inch 4K Ultra while you hide Christmas gifts at the bottom of the push cart. Sore back? No problem. Take a test drive in the vibrating recliner with 8 settings and let it melt away the stress caused by the guilt you're feeling because you know good and well you have no intention of buying that chair.

Then it's about time to haul it out to the car on the big orange jumbo cart, load up like the Beverly Hillbillies and head out. All things considered, this is a pretty successful outing, I'd say. It's certainly not a day at the beach but it's a whole lot cheaper. The point is you are doing it together. This holiday season, find a way to build some memories with those you love the most. I highly recommend the Member's Club experience. Where else are you going to find frozen chicken strips and a new set of radials all under one roof, right?...and if you see me there with the family in tow, DO NOT EAT ALL OF THE SNICKER DOODLES!